A Shot of Faith to the Head

About a 18 months ago I read Tim Keller's book The Reason for God and it ignited in me a renewed passion for apologetics and philosophy, specifically Christian philosophy. There has been a renaissance of sorts in the past 40 years after many thought that Christian philosophy was dead. The charge has been led in large part by Alvin Plantinga a professor of philosophy at Notre Dame.

One of Plantinga's students Mitch Stokes, is the author of A Shot of Faith to the Head. In his book he has done an incredible job of consolidating Plantinga's philosophies and through succinct clear writing and dry wit has made some rather heady philosophy accessible, readable and understandable.

In this book Stokes takes aim at the militant sect of New Atheism. His stated goal is give believers in Christianity confidence in what they believe through rational thinking. Its a good challenge because a good number people in the West who were brought up in the church never really questioned nor thought critically about what they were being taught.

True faith is not believing in something because your parents or friends do but because you've thought it through and have made it personal to you.

In the first section of the book Stokes takes on the question that belief in a God is irrational. This is a great foundation because if belief in a God is irrational to begin with there is no use philosophizing about his existence. This section gets a bit deep and for me required several read throughs but his arguments are convincing.

I'll note that one of the best parts of the book are the "for your arsenal" sections at the end of each chapter. These give a "Cliff Notes" style recap of what the chapter contained. This makes it convenient to read back and pick up on the major highlights.

Evidentialism is main focus of Stokes first attack. Most atheists (and too many believers for that matter) are evidentialists, which means in order for beliefs to be rational they require sufficient evidence.

Stokes claims that evidentialism is false in that if all beliefs require evidence then the evidentialists belief that evidentialism is true is ultimately irrational. At some point we need beliefs that haven't been reasoned to. We need beliefs that are not supported by other beliefs as way of arguments.

Stokes continues to argue that all reasoning needs a place to stand, a foundation. These foundational beliefs (like believing that our senses are working correctly) can be believed without any inference whatsoever and are perfectly rational.

The second half of the book deals with two of the most difficult objections to the existence of God for the believer - mainly that "Science has shown there's no God" and the problem of evil.

Stokes starts this second half by arguing that there is no conflict between science and religion and that the whole mess began with some revisionist history concerning Galileo. He argues that the conflict was not because of Galileo's views on science but between Christians on how to best interpret Scripture. Since this time atheists have pointed back to this incident as an indictment against religion.

For the problem of evil Stokes argues that there are two versions: The logical problem and probabilistic problem. First there is a need to show that there is not a logical inconsistency between the existence of God and the existence of evil. Is there a way that God and evil can co-exist? Stokes says that it would not be possible for God to create creatures with free will without allowing for the possibility of evil.

Second the probabilistic view says that it is highly unlikely (but not impossible) that God exists because evil exists. The issue here is our finite minds. Just because we can't think of a good reason to allow evil doesn't mean there isn't one.

As stated by the subtitle (Be a Confident Believer in the Age of Cranky Atheists) Stokes wants the believer to know that they can stand strong intellectually under the mockery and derision that has caused many believers to doubt and many doubters to suspend belief completely.

Much like Keller's work The Reason For God, Stokes' A Shot of Faith to the Head provides a wonderful rational defense to belief in God and succeeds in allowing reason to be on the believer's side.

Though I had to read sections over and over because my lazy mind tends to wander under the weight of philosophy I emerged more confident in my beliefs would highly recommend this book.